Online car reliability surveys aren’t worth the paper they’re not written on

We’ve all seen the league tables and figures of car reliability surveys down through the years. Japanese cars at the top, French and Italian cars at the bottom and the rest somewhere in the middle. All nice and predictable and fitting in comfortably with our expectations, right?

Demerits & the cars mechanics

Right – and that’s part of the problem, it seems. Here’s an interesting fact. When it comes to reliability surveys, a large and increasing number of the demerits customers and owners hand out when talking about cars are actually not to do with mechanical breakdowns.
It’s not as if those breakdowns still don’t happen. They do, but by and large they happen as a vehicle gets older and older, and generally when it passes the point where it’s not cared for properly any more. Service intervals become stretched out, less care is taken with the sourcing of parts and so on. In terms of cars that we generally buy, the three and five-year olds that form the bulk of our national car park, mechanical reliability can be pretty much taken as given, once the car has been properly cared for. There will always be the occasional glitch or mechanical malady of course, but for the most part, we have come to expect (and receive) reliable motoring from most cars.

Complaint types

Car reliability surveys 2So where are the scores coming from in the reliability surveys? Ah, I said there was a problem and it’s a worrying one. The fact is that an increasing number of the complaints levelled at cars these days are actually to do with electronics and, more and more, the infotainment systems. That’s right – an ever-growing proportion of a car’s reliability survey is now to do with whether or not the stereo works properly.
Why is this a problem? Because according to a survey, we actually don’t understand our cars properly. The survey of 1,000 car owners, carried out by, found that 73 per cent don’t understand how to use all of the high tech gadgets and safety features in their vehicle.
This is despite over half (54 per cent) of adults admitting they were sold on the car they bought because of the features it offered.
The survey quizzed car owners on the usage of specific features that are available to them in their vehicle, such as tyre pressure monitoring systems, cruise control, skid control systems and parking sensors.
1 in 5 (19 per cent) surveyed claimed to use only one or two of the settings available to them regularly, while 45 per cent regularly use between just three and four settings.
The research exposed a number of features that are commonly being left unused, due to lack of understanding. Cruise control was the most likely to cause confusion, followed by eco settings and gadgets such as Bluetooth.
Parking sensors and cameras were the fourth most likely to leave car owners bemused, followed by high-tech Heating and cooling systems.
1 in 2 (48 per cent) of those who admit to not using all of the features, cite not understanding how to use them as the reason for not doing so.
Modern day and luxury cars are becoming more advanced, and with technology such as in car cameras, built in power outlets and Wi-Fi becoming the norm, car owners need to spend time learning how to make best use of the features in order to make the most of their investment.

Drivers are driven by features

Car reliability surveys 3Karen Rotberg, director at, said: “With advanced vehicle technology on the rise, it’s important that people are aware of the features their car offers as they can make the difference both financially and in terms of safety.
“What is particularly interesting from the findings, is that so many car owners claim they specifically chose the car they did because of its features, yet lots haven’t got to grips with them or don’t use them – which is a shame considering a car is one of the biggest investments an adult will make.
“Although the features available in the latest vehicles are there to suit the needs of the modern day driver, they must be fully understood in order for the car to reach its full potential – and those who take the time required to acquaint themselves with these options will find they reap numerous benefits, whether it’s lower fuel bills, a more comfortable journey or a safer car.”


So, there’s today’s lesson – beware of the reliability survey, especially if it’s one which seems to suggest hugely reliable cars (such as, say, Subaru or Honda) are propping up the bottom of the table. That scoring system might well be reliant on people making complaints about systems that they don’t fully understand.